When A Child is Taught to Hate: My Version of the Alicia Story, Part 2

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog CynthiaJeub.com. It was originally published on November 12, 2014. 

< Part One

Part Two

“That’s not despair you’re feeling, it’s the petulant reaction of a wounded child
And that’s not the door I’m looking at, it’s an escape hatch to the zeppelin we’re inside…
This ain’t an insult, it’s the clearest truth I’ve ever had the misery to speak
These aren’t words, these are the terms of my surrender and defeat
But I’m not sorry, beyond the sorry nature of existing with no plans
Please don’t touch me, just wave goodbye with that claw that’s not a hand.” -El-P

I didn’t see the woman who raised me for three years. “Alicia” became a word that could incapacitate me for want of an emotional outlet. I didn’t know what triggers were, but the mention of her name was a trigger, and is still something I have mixed feelings about.

My aunt Becky visited my sister sometimes during those years, and she once showed me a picture of my baby nephew. I saw his picture, and felt no loss for myself in having never met a family member. My mother had already killed that idea: he was a symbol of my sister’s rebellion, proof that she was as “promiscuous” as mom said she was.

In 2006, we filmed for The Learning Channel and the film crew didn’t press the issue. My parents said my sister lived far away, and was, unfortunately, unavailable to participate in the show. Becky told me recently that when she met the on-site producer, he dropped this information offhand: “It’s too bad their oldest daughter couldn’t make it.”

“Alicia? But she lives twenty minutes away. I’m staying with her.”

“What? That’s not what I was told.”

That’s when they pressed the issue with my dad in an interview. This was the juicy story Reality TV was looking for, so they planned to film extra footage of a meet-up. My mom had met my nephew that summer, and the TV cameras filmed her getting a meal with Alicia and her son. Dad filmed his first meeting with his grandson, and the Learning Channel used his footage in the final show’s cut. I knew nothing of this at the time.

I saw my sister for the first time in three years the night before I’d be watching her on TV.

At the beginning of 2007, there was a short reunion. My dad called it the return of the prodigal, and we actually ate elk calf from a recent hunting trip. He said we’d “killed the fatted calf.” It looked great and we were all smiles, and it helped my parents sell a lot of books under the “Love in the House” brand. Seeing those pictures now makes me shudder. In the last two photos, I’m smiling unnaturally brightly, saying to my dad’s camera what I couldn’t say aloud – that I was desperate to let the world know how glad I was to have my sister back that night.

The next seven years were rocky. We tried to make it work, but mom and dad insisted on condescending to Alicia. They refused to treat her relationship as a marriage, saying she and her boyfriend, Josh, were “shacking up,” even though they were in a steady, stable relationship and we live in a common law state. They wanted to print in the Christmas Letter that she’d had another child out of wedlock, with no mention of her committed husband. Alicia gave my mom a family picture including Josh and their two sons, but my parents refused to use it. In turn, Alicia and Josh refused to let them put pictures of their kids in the Christmas Letter.

I believed my parents were right to treat my sister the way they did. After all, she wasn’t really married. She had done some pretty bad things by the standards with which I was raised. I fought with her and cut off communication because she wanted to keep talking to me, even though there was conflict with my parents.

I only started to doubt the way my parents had treated Alicia when my parents kicked Lydia and me out. This was all familiar, something I hadn’t heard in over a decade: “You can’t be here. Get out or do as I say.” It was what my dad had said to my older sister, Alicia, in their fights before she moved out.

When my dad used the same phrases on me, I doubted for the first time: maybe Alicia didn’t do anything wrong. I fought to keep my voice steady against his onslaught: “This sounds familiar, dad. Like what I heard you say to Alicia.”

Dad’s reply was, “Oh, so now it’s personal, huh?”

For some time, Lydia and I had been discussing dad’s lack of understanding for other people. He just wasn’t aware of others’ feelings or perspectives. Earlier that year, when I’d told him I couldn’t read through an entire book and copy-edit it on top of work and school, he’d gotten me up two hours before sunrise and forced me to edit it before I had to leave for class. That summer, when I’d spent a few days working on my own writing, he told me that I was letting my summer get away from me because I wasn’t working for him all the time.

When I interact with people, I recognize that they have a whole life, and we’re interacting briefly. Dad didn’t seem to have that kind of capacity. When I worked for him, his wishes came first, and I couldn’t ever say “no,” even if I was overwhelmed. If I wasn’t working for him, I wasn’t doing anything important.

My theory of dad’s inability to understand others flashed through me when I mentioned Alicia. I later learned the word I was looking for: empathy.

He didn’t see that I’d mentioned it because I was hurt. He thought I was attacking him. That’s how my interactions with my dad have always been if I try to stand up for myself.

I’ve told this story to countless people, painting my sister as the villain in the situation. My parents first sent me to Christian counseling because I felt so betrayed by Alicia. Many people have heard a very different story.

For the sister I lost and regained after ten years, I need to tell my version of the story. This is how I see it now.

When A Child is Taught to Hate: My Version of the Alicia Story, Part 1

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog CynthiaJeub.com. It was originally published on November 10, 2014. 

Part One

“I’ve been trying to justify you
In the end, I will just defy you.” -Dream Theater, ‘Honor Thy Father’

It started with fights, and I’d never heard my parents yelling. I would be in bed already. Alicia had missed her curfew again. Dad was yelling at her. I crawled out of bed and hid at the bottom of the stairs, listening.

“You’ve made your mom worry sick about you.”

“Dad, I just barely missed it.”

“Where were you? Out partying with your friends again?”

“My youth group friends, dad. They’re Christians…”

“Because our family church isn’t good enough for you, huh?”

Alicia was the person I loved most in the world. When I was a child, I hated getting my hair brushed. Mom would tug at the knots and snarls, and she could move my head by my hair, making me scream and cry. Later on, if my mother ever grabbed my hair, I’d freeze and obey her commands instinctively. Alicia brushed my hair gently, working up from the ends.

I also fondly remember helping with laundry, because she let me clean the lint filter in the dryer, which was fun. When we made Kraft macaroni and cheese, Alicia let me pour the cheese pouches. With these little acts of consideration, she won my affection.

When my family attended Kevin Swanson’s church and my friends there pressured me into wanting a simple life, Alicia fed my love for music. She took me to concerts, and helped me buy my first tall black boots and a jacket with red and black fabric. I wore cool clothes because of her. All of the kids who remember when Alicia still lived with us have sweet memories about why they loved her.

One day in 2003, when I was listening at the bottom of the stairs to my parents arguing with Alicia, I heard dad say, “Get out of my house. You own a car. You can sleep in that tonight.”

She yelled back, “Fine! I will!”

Horrified, I ran upstairs and hugged Alicia. I knew I couldn’t keep her here by wrapping my small, thin arms around her, but I clung like I could. I started crying and begged her not to leave.

I became the device for the argument. “This is why you can’t treat me this way!” Alicia said.

“No, this is why you need to stop being such a bad influence!” Dad said, pointing at me. “Look, they’re attached to you. They’ll do everything you do.”

I cried louder, drowning out their voices. Then I was scolded and punished, but at least I’d made a distraction from the unbearable fighting.

Through more spying and listening in on adult conversations, I learned more of what Alicia had done: at first, she just wanted friends who didn’t go to our parents’ church. My parents said her clothes were too immodest, and once she got in trouble for sitting on a boy’s lap for a picture. Alicia brought Christian guys home, to see if my dad approved of them as friends. My parents didn’t like the friends she chose, and dad didn’t like her first boyfriend.

“No matter what I did, I was rebellious and in trouble,” she told me recently. “So I gave up trying. I thought, ‘If I’m going to be accused of being a bad kid, might as well make the most of it.’”

That’s when she took a housesitting job when she was 18, and hosted parties there. She drank alcohol and she had sex. This was the worst thing she could possibly have done, according to the standards of the world I grew up in.

As the story was told on The Learning Channel, Alicia tried family counseling, and then chose to move away from the family.

What actually happened was that my dad gave her an ultimatum: live in Kevin Swanson’s basement until she’d repented of her ways and submitted to her father’s authority in every way, or she could never see her siblings again.

My parents both cried on my shoulders when I was eleven. They told me all about the pain and heartbreak they were feeling, and I comforted them as best I could. I’d lost my sister, but I told myself that my parents were in more pain than I was. Alissa moved out soon afterward (a different story altogether), and I became the oldest kid in the house, and I became responsible for far more chores than before.

Between the ages of 11 and 14, I learned that mom and dad could express their emotions, but I could not. That was puberty for me.

I was determined to never turn my back on faith and family, as Alicia had.

Part Two >

How a Logical Girl Talked Herself into Fundamentalism, Part 3


HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog CynthiaJeub.com. It was originally published on October 17, 2014. 

< Part Two

Trigger warning: child abuse

“Icy roads beneath my feet,
Lead me through wastelands of deceit,
Rest your head now, don’t you cry,
Don’t ever ask the reason why.” –Opeth

When Tangled hit theaters in 2010, my sister Lydia and I saw it within the first couple of weeks. We were late for the movie, missing the narrator introducing Mother Gothel as the villain. We found our seats just in time to see the song “Mother Knows Best.”

Both of us thought, after watching that song, that perhaps in this movie the witch in the tower was a good person. After all, it was a retold fairy tale. You never know what they’re going to swap around.

For the uninformed, “Mother Knows Best” features textbook emotional abuse with manipulation and control, using guilt trips, threats, and fear tactics. I watched the song again recently, and realized most people knew that when they first saw it. When I was eighteen, I did not see any problems with the song.

Gothel looked like a good mother to me.

So after reading an article about girls in the homeschool movement who live with self-deception, I did the most natural thing I could think to do. I emailed it to my mom, and said I felt like my life had been that way.

Her reply: “We left all that behind in ’06.”

For context, my family filmed for reality TV in 2006. After that, my parents re-branded themselves, championing the word “love” as the ultimate trump card. They wrote a book called “Love in the House,” and emphasized that the greatest commandment is love.

To this day I get shamed for talking about the multi-faceted manipulation in my family, because it’s not in accordance with our brand, “love.” I got a text message a couple of months ago from my dad, after I walked out the front door because he started yelling at me for, well, ignoring his text messages. The text read, “Love is the answer. This is not love.”

Because I was accustomed to believing my parents every time they reinvented stories, I believed my mom. Maybe I wasn’t under pressure after I was 14. But I wrote letters about brightening the house until I was 18.

I visited my parents’ house sometime in May this year, and my sister Hannah, age 11, was standing at the stove. I asked where mom was, and was told that mom had been shopping for the past four hours. My brothers were working, and my eleven-year-old sister was left to feed and supervise her six younger siblings, and clean the entire house. Hannah beamed proudly as she told me about her work: she’d cooked, cleaned, watched the kids.

It was the first time in my life that this situation seemed like too high an expectation for an 11-year-old girl. It was what I was raised with. It had been normal.

The only thing Hannah didn’t have time for was the dishes. We don’t have a dishwasher because, with 14 people living in the house, it’s inefficient. We use too many large serving and cooking items, and there are more plates and cups at each meal than a regular dishwasher can hold. My parents have always verbalized dreams about an industrial dishwasher, but we could never afford one. As a result, we wash everything by hand, which takes hours, but it’s better than putting up with a tiny dishwasher.

Mom got home an hour later. Hannah beamed with pride, waiting for a compliment on how well she’d done. Mom’s eyes went straight for the dishes, piled all around the sink. Hannah had cooked, babysat, swept all the floors, and the other counters and tabletops were clean. The dishes were her one oversight.

My mom started yelling, and I watched my little sister crumple. I felt a twinge of familiarity. I had received the same treatment at her age, and taken it with the guilt I was supposed to feel, and tried to perform better. I became a master of homemaking over the next several years.

We listened to mom rant about how dishes are an important chore, and why didn’t Hannah get them done, and now it would be hard to move ahead with the day, and I-was-gone-shopping-aren’t-you-grateful-for-my-hard-work-enough-to-do-what-I-asked.

Hannah defended herself, listing all she had completed. My mom would hear none of it, so I stepped in. “Mom, the house is never this clean when you’re in charge. It’s always in better shape when you leave one of the girls here.”

This was insult. I was informed that my mom did her best, and now was no time for criticism. I tried to help her see that she was holding her young daughter to a hypocritical standard. It was no use. Hannah deserved a tongue lashing, but my mom could not be expected to keep the house in order.

I brought up the email. “You said you left all this behind, and here we are,” I said. She insisted that there was nothing unreasonable about her expectations.

Another time I visited, Hannah and mom were having the same argument: mom had left the little girl in charge, and Hannah had failed on one chore, and mom was yelling at her. I walked in on the middle of the conversation, and Hannah had evidently just cried.

My sister turned to me. “Happy Fairy, cheer me up.”

Something twisted in my gut. This was what I’d been coping with when I pretended to be happy. This was what I convinced myself was a good thing. This was what I was burying away, and this was why I’d dropped out of college and started mental health therapy – because I couldn’t live in denial of my depression anymore.

I looked at Hannah, who was hopeful and ready for my “magic” power to cheer her, and said, “The Happy Fairy was a lie. I forced myself to be happy. Just in the past few months, I’ve learned to start sentences with ‘I feel…’ because I was never taught to express my feelings. I spent my teenage years pretending to be happy. I thought I could fake it until I made it.”

My mom was standing in the kitchen with us. She was quick to announce, “You didn’t learn that from me.”

But I did learn that from her. One of my mom’s favorite lines was, “It’s scientifically proven that if you smile when you don’t feel like smiling, it sends messages to your brain that you’re happy, and pretty soon, you feel better.”

I turned back to my little sister. “I also distrusted myself when I felt angry or sad. You’re angry for good reason: you tried to keep the house in order and you didn’t please mom, and she yelled at you. It’s okay to be frustrated about that. You don’t have to pretend to be happy, and I’m sorry I made you think it would work. It didn’t work for me. It just helped me bury all my emotions for years.”

In the weeks that followed, my mom used all kinds of emotional abuse to get me to stop criticizing her. She said she could yell at my siblings if she wanted to, that’s just the way she is. She could never see the hypocrisy of having higher expectations for her kids than she had for herself. She threatened to commit suicide. She appealed to my emotional vulnerabilities, and she knew them all: I’d just been through a breakup, I couldn’t trust myself because I was mentally ill, and I should feel guilty and ashamed for not being forgiving and loving enough.

One evening, when I was exhausted from arguing with her, I collapsed on the couch. She sat next to me and stroked my head, and told me I could trust her, and that she loved me, and that she hoped I’d get better, and said how she thinks I’m an awesome person.

It was like being cuddled after a nonconsensual BDSM session, as I told a friend a few days later. Had I not read a post on tumblr criticizing the lack of consent in Fifty Shades of Grey, I would not have recognized what my mom was doing that night.

Then I realized she’d done this all my life: attack, threaten, comfort. Hurt, and then flatter.

And in that one moment, with my mother gently caressing my hair and murmuring soothing words, I lost every ounce of trust I’d ever had for her.

End of series.

How a Logical Girl Talked Herself into Fundamentalism, Part 2


HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog CynthiaJeub.com. It was originally published on October 15, 2014. 

< Part One

Trigger warnings: child abuse

“I could fight this, but I may die.
And all I want is be the apple in your eye
Well I could stay here, strap on my face
Listen to the words that put me in my place.” –Pendulum

I was a curious child. I wanted to know how everything worked and why we did certain tasks, and if the explanation wasn’t satisfactory, I refused to participate.

One day when I was nine, I questioned the reasoning behind sweeping the floor. It was always dirty again within hours. Why not just leave it, or find something more efficient? In a fit of frustration, my mom pulled my ear and yelled in my face, then threw me into the pile I’d partially swept. My head rang from hitting the wood floor and my mom kept yelling about how I needed to finish my chores and stop asking questions, and do it as she said to do it. I finally obliged.

The next day, I felt weak. I struggled with low energy and being underweight, so this happened pretty often. I didn’t have the strength for my chores, and fell asleep again soon after breakfast. My mom brought me a snack and gently offered comfort and care, and she said that I could always trust her. When I felt safe, she asked about why I had such a strong aversion to chores. I remember this phrase from her: “Jesus wouldn’t be happy that you won’t listen.”

I didn’t recognize my own use of humor as a defense mechanism. “I don’t want to follow Jesus, mom.” I laughed at her alarm and joked, “I want to be a follower of Garfield. He’s okay with himself how he is, and he lays around, and he’s not skinny as a rail like me.”

The next day my mom told me, “Your dad and I have talked it over, and we decided you can’t read comics for a year.”

I wanted to cry. I already knew what it felt like to lose something I loved for a whole year, because they grounded me off of watching Star Wars when I was seven and eight. I loved reading, and I loved comics. I loved reading Garfield, Spider-man, Calvin and Hobbes, Foxtrot, and always got the newspaper and read the comics before reading some of the news. It was wit and humor and information and philosophical thought and character development.

My favorite movies, and now comics, took precedence over my parents’ religion and expectations, and that made them an idol. My crime for losing what I loved was that I loved it too much.

But like I’ve said before, I knew to suppress my feelings. I took pride in the fact that I did not cry.

For years afterward, I checked myself: never let your obsessions with fantasy and science fiction and stories get in the way of God. Better yet, convince yourself that you want to love God more than anything else.

I started to enjoy housework after my last spanking, at age eleven. I was fighting with my mom about chores again, and she called my dad’s office. He was a web designer for Focus on the Family. I was afraid of talking to him on the phone, so I hid. I was told I’d be spanked with a belt, and I was terrified.

Now, again, I didn’t make these connections at the time – but now I know that the threat of a belt was a trigger for me because my older sister was beaten with a belt years earlier. It was the first and only time the belt was used on me. I cried, and what I hated about spankings was that I always had trouble catching my breath after I started crying. That moment of fighting to breathe was agony, worse than the initial pain of the spanking itself.

Within a week, I decided I loved housework. I took pride in doing it well. I did my chores on time, then I was allowed to disappear and read. I couldn’t read comic books anymore, so I read more chapter books. As I grew into my teen years, I learned to bury my emotions and put on a smile. By the time I was an adult, I had mastered the art of self-deception.

I could either resent what I was expected to do and be, or I could embrace it. I chose to embrace it, and spent countless hours cooking, cleaning, babysitting children, and encouraging other girls like myself, so they could enjoy my lifestyle as much as I did.

As a teenager, I remember thanking my parents for spanking me. I thought it had been effective, and I thought I’d spank my own kids. Now that I’ve researched emotional and physical abuse, I see my memories in a new light:

My parents broke me into embracing the identity they demanded of me.

Part Three >

How a Logical Girl Talked Herself into Fundamentalism, Part 1

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog CynthiaJeub.com. It was originally published on October 13, 2014. 

“Do not look down
Or the abysmal beast of non-conformity
Might stare some unpleasant truth
Into your desensitized mind.” –Meshuggah

It was in April 2014 that I read an article on Homeschoolers Anonymous by Sarah Henderson entitled, “Oh daughters of fundamentalism, take upon yourselves the cloak of self-deception.”

I read it, and for the first time, I recognized how I’d survived my teenage years.

There’s a huge myth I run into on a regular basis – that people raised in fundamentalism are stupid.

It’s too simple an explanation for the many types of people involved in it. There are the stupid ones, of course. There are also those who love power, and they control those less intelligent than themselves. Some are willfully ignorant, checking their brains at the door, as it’s been so eloquently said elsewhere. Then there are those who are both smart and ignorant, and, having been presented with no alternative, survive with self-deception.

I was in the last category. I prided myself in logical thinking, and had quite a few radical ideas of my own. I read all the time, and I wasn’t afraid to reject what I thought seemed unreasonable. Predestination, for instance, was something I enjoyed arguing against.

To give you some idea of what it was like to do what Sarah Henderson describes, here’s a segment of a letter I wrote to my best friend when I was eighteen:

“About setting the tone in the house…I know exactly what you mean. It’s in the difference between the bright ‘Oh, I’ll clean up the cinnamon all over the floor’ vs. the blame-leaden ‘It’s Noah’s job to clean the kitchen in the afternoon’. I think the problem with attempting to brighten our family’s faces is that, at least for me, I feel like nobody cares if I’m really trying to be an encourager. So one thing I do is to remind myself what I hear from people who work in minor departments on films: ‘The best compliment is no comment at all.’ Especially for animated films, there are people who work as hard as the rest in order to get the lighting just right to make the scene vibrant, but the audience doesn’t notice. The only thing the audience sees are the characters talking, the clever dialogue and movement. That’s rather how it is at home: the goal is not to make my siblings and parents realize how hard it is for me, but to do my best, and the results will brighten the mood of the house, not necessarily the task itself. I guess what I’m trying to say is that others don’t think of my actions in terms of isolated incidents, they look at my attitude’s consistency as a whole. What goes on inside my head is not what my family sees, hopefully. What they see is a cheerful servant.”

See, I was informed and could command words. I gave good examples. I was not unreasonable. Looking at that letter now, I see denial and buried emotions. I had no idea that I was in survival mode. It would take three more years for me to realize that I was depressed, and that my depression was perpetuated by forced smiles and taking pride in the fact that I never cried.

I was great at it. In my final years of living with my family, my parents and siblings nicknamed me “The Happy Fairy.” I was known for my skill in lifting spirits. I could make everyone laugh away any frustration. I could lighten any mood. I embraced my Happy Fairy nickname. After all, I love fairies, and my ever-bettering skill as the one who could keep the house happy was a sign of accomplishment. When I started college and spent more time away from home, my family complained that they missed the sound of my cheerful singing.

This took years to develop. My adult self was the product, but I didn’t stop fighting until I was eleven.

Part Two >

You’re not a victim because…

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Eleanor Skelton’s blog. It was originally published on October 20, 2014.

Trigger warning: victim-blaming.

Observing the backlash against my friend Cynthia Jeub’s blog series on family abuse has been quite informative for my journalistic aspirations.

Cynthia and I worked at the campus newspaper as editors for two years, and we share a passion for investigative reporting.

Together, we advocated for disabled students on campus, plotted together to conduct social experiment videos, followed the conflict over sermons about homosexuality at Bob Jones University last year, and cheered on the BJU students leaking bootleg recordings.

But two weeks ago, it got real.

Cynthia wasn’t just supporting Homeschoolers Anonymous and the spiritual abuse survivors blog network anymore, we weren’t just swapping links back and forth on chat. She shared her own story.

People told us to be quiet, to not make God or Jesus or Christianity look bad.

And all I could think of was a verse from memorizing the book of Ephesians with my youth group nearly 10 years ago: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (ESV)

There is no need for silence any longer. I noticed several types of attempts to stop Cynthia:

“You’re mentally ill.”

Cynthia’s parents and siblings keep using “mental illness” in attempting to discredit her, posting comments like: “Hey I’m Cynthias lil brother Micah Jeub and she is making this stuff up. she is just lying. Cynthia is dealing with mental illness and needs prayer.”

In the Jeub family’s responses, the fact Cynthia is even seeing a therapist at all is grounds to claim she is “mentally ill” and that her memories should not be considered credible.

I’ve noticed that American culture often misunderstands mental illness, as illustrated by the Matt Walsh post on Robin Williams’ suicide.

But legally, the state only interferes when the patient states or acts to threaten their lives or others.  When their issues keep them from functioning in society.

So I don’t believe the Jeub family can label Cynthia “mentally ill” because she goes to counseling. She holds a full-time job and attends classes. If Cynthia’s crazy, well then so am I.

“But you forgave me.”

Another phrase abusers use to cover up the past. Especially in the church, because forgiveness is a Christian virtue, and Jesus forgave so much more than you ever could.

This brand of “forgiveness” just enables abusers, as illustrated in power and control cycles.  Read the “minimizing, denying, and blaming” section.

Last week, a friend of mine received a message from her former boyfriend’s phone, sent by his controlling, manipulative girlfriend who assaulted him back in 2012.

“Anyway, it’s all in the past now. The only thing we can do now is move forward. You seem to be doing good things in your life. And we are doing good things in ours. Lets just all be happy and forgiving and let the negativity finally subside.”

If we cannot tolerate this behavior in romantic relationships, we shouldn’t in child rearing, either. Even forgiveness does not heal the hurt.

“You’re exaggerating.”

Chris Jeub’s podcast was loaded with this excuse, mostly from Cynthia’s siblings.

“That’s not abuse, that’s what every mom does when her kids don’t do the dishes, she throws silverware at you.”

“A lot of moms would have popped before mom did.”

The Jeub children still living at home assume explosive outbursts and physical attack is normal and happens in every household.

A more aggressive attempt to discredit Cynthia’s story, in the form of libel accusations, came from Patricia Byrnes, former counselor to Cynthia and the other older Jeub sisters.

She and her husband Kurt Byrnes founded Anchor of Hope Ministries in Monument, Colorado, and provide services to the homeschool community.

I received the following Facebook message from her on October 7:


Also, notice her comment on Chris Jeub’s Facebook status two days before, discussing a therapy session:


And her comment on Cynthia’s Melting Memory Masks post:


So I screen-captured Patricia’s message and posted it publicly to my Facebook account. She dialogued with us on the thread:


In these online encounters, Patricia Byrnes violated her own confidentiality agreement in revealing details from prior therapy sessions. Anchor of Hope’s policy states: “Interactions between client and counselor are confidential. Unless I have permission from you, what we talk about will be private; I will not discuss it with anyone else. Our discussion will be private and confidential.”

And she actively discouraged Cynthia from sharing her story, although a counselor’s role should be to enable and empower.

Patricia Byrnes also avoided questions about her credentials, while still telling us to “use caution” and “be quick to listen and slow to speak.”

The homeschool community becomes abusive and toxic when authority figures mislabel and deny our voices and then advocate a false forgiveness above all else.

These scenarios are what perpetuated our harm for so many years.

Silence only enables abusers. Our scars have stories. And the stories matter.

Four Reasons Why I Believe Cynthia Jeub

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Susan Gabriella Douglas’s blog The Little Fighter That Could. It was originally published on October 12, 2014.

Susan’s disclaimer: the claims made in this article are drawn only from a Christian homeschool background and thus only pertain to similar such circumstances. Because this article responds to information found in this post, it may be useful to view it before resuming.

Cynthia Jeub’s claims of parental abuse on her blog have caused an uncomfortable stir in the Christian homeschooling community and beyond. Some people offer comfort to her and her sister, Lydia, who were both kicked out of their house, while others, obviously less moved by the story, are demanding reasons. Reasons for why Cynthia’s claims are true, and then, even if they are true, reasons why she feels the need to publish them.

This made me angry. I asked myself why an audience so detached felt the need to demand such technical answers of abuse victims like Cynthia. Why wasn’t her word good enough? Interestingly, I was actually able to get a partial answer.

A large portion of the people who hear Cynthia’s story may already know of her family—with sixteen kids, it’s hard not to get some press. And what most people (at least speaking for the Christian homeschool world) have been educated to believe is that the Jeubs are all reputable people up there with names like the Duggers and the Pearls. Consequently, due nearly only to the fact that Cynthia’s parents gave us our first impression of the family, Cynthia’s unexpected claims are now being weighed against a reputation toward which we have already been biased.

It’s been estimated that physical first impressions are made in one-tenth of a second. First impressions are hard to change. But imagine this—the tables turned. What if Cynthia presented to the world everyone’s first impression of her parents as abusive, hypocritical people? How much harder of a time would it be for Mr. Jeub to come along and retrieve his reputation?  You see, it’s not a question of credibility as much as it is our subconscious bias. And our bias requires logic to supersede it. Therefore, it cries out, give us reasons.

I do understand this. But I’m also still convinced that there ARE reasons. The reputations of those who came before Cynthia may be uncomfortable to question, but I believe they are worth braving in the name of open-mindedness. After having done this myself, I have even been surprised—with four reasons why I believe Cynthia Jeub.

 1) The Jeub’s Response to Cynthia

An article and a podcast were recently put up by Cynthia’s father, Chris Jeub, which were interestingly removed by him days later. While the article was eventually reposted, the podcast is now only available due to the initiative of those who believe, contrary to the podcast’s original intentions, that it supports Cynthia’s case. Here are a few reasons why.

In the article so appropriately entitled Responding to Heartache, Chris makes a bold statement meaning for it to prove that humans respond inadequately in the flesh to heartache. The statement he actually makes, however, gives a very different vibe.

“I envy the abusive parent whose kids never lip off, or the hot-tempered boss whose employees just do as they say, or the fire-breathing pastor who beats their congregation from the pulpit. Everyone seems to behave. I don’t know how they manage it, because I have not had good results with the response of the flesh.”

I do not intend to twist what Chris is saying to mean something it blatantly does not. I believe his train of thought was that this is the wrong attitude to have. He mistakenly assumes, however, that this power-hungry attitude is normal amongst the rest of us. And yet, somehow, I do not envy the abusive parent whose children never speak up for themselves, or the position of a hot-tempered boss whose employees just obey, or the fire-breathing pastor of a seamlessly behaving congregation.

It seems to have slipped Chris’ mind that even in the flesh we shouldn’t wish to be monsters. Certainly our flesh is weak, but a desire for complete and utter authority isn’t assumed, it’s developed. This is an attitude that is not healthy, which—if Chris took abuse seriously, for the crime that it is—he would know not to take lightly.

This is evidently not the case, because the podcast put up in defense of the Jeub’s reputation attempts to make a laughingstock of Cynthia’s first blogpost as four of her siblings attempt to debunk her claims.

It is my personal opinion that the reason the podcast was hastily removed was because it comprised of too much evidence in Cynthia’s favor. Below are the paraphrased alibis the Jeub children provide to disprove the abusive events disclosed by their sister.

  • “This always happens—this is normal.”
  • Mom only hit him because I hit him first and she took my side.”
  • “He wasn’t bleeding; mom and Micah only gave him a bruise.”
  • “Mom said she was sorry and she’d never do it again, so it’s irrelevant.”
  • “I don’t remember this happening but my siblings said it did, and it sounds like abuse—but mom would never abuse us kids. It can’t be abuse.”
  • “Why wouldn’t mom be upset if she didn’t do the dishes while cleaning and cooking and caring for ten kids? It’s her job to do the dishes. Cynthia’s an adult, she should just grow up and do the dishes.”
  • “Cynthia’s only mentioning this one part of the conversation. Dad didn’t only ask her ifthe reason she was cutting was to follow the trends of her college friends.”
  • “I doubt this even happened, but if it did, mom didn’t ORDER Cynthia to not tell her counselor she was self-harming…she just suggested it. Besides, that makes no sense.Why would she be in counseling and not tell her counselor she was self-harming? Cynthia totally is contradicting herself.”
  • “Mom and dad used to think spanking was a really good thing like ten years ago, but they don’t do that anymore.”
  • Mom blew it that one time and threw silverware at me, but that’s just what moms do when their kid doesn’t do the dishes, right?”
  • “Remember, mom was in the middle of a miscarriage. She was having a hard time. We have to cut her some slack.”
  • “She was so sorry, and you’ve forgiven her, so it doesn’t matter anymore.”

These statements do NOT justify what happened to Cynthia. In fact, if you read her blogpost and then listen to the additional information explained in the podcast, the abuse becomes even more evident. If you have any doubts about what’s been paraphrased here, I encourage you to go listen for yourself. I’ve also transcribed the entire podcast, which you can read here.

2) Brainwashing

Brainwashed Children Don’t Know They Are Being Abused.

Cynthia’s first post claimed three main things. Physical abuse—abuse her siblings did not deny happened, and instead trivialized by normalizing it or saying it was forgiven; psychological abuse—which her siblings responded to by doubting; and emotional abuse—which her siblings made fun of.

Before I go on, I want to make it clear that I relate closely to Cynthia, as I grew up in a family that was—not physically, but—psychologically, spiritually and emotionally abusive. I therefore feel that I understand where she is coming from.

From growing up with such abuse, I also know that the most confusing part of it can be that you don’t know you are being abused. If you grew up in a successfully abusive family, you would’ve been taught from the earliest age possible that your life as a victim was normal. To you, the world outside was a dark, scary place that wanted you to be miserable…unlike in the house where you lived, in the loving arms of your abusers: Your Christian homeschooling parents, who tell you they love Jesus more than anything else.

When you do something wrong or that makes your family look bad…that is your fault. When you don’t want to obey your parents because it hurts…that is your sinful spirit, which must be broken. You suffer from guilt and shame and the constant, crippling fear of inadequacy.

The reason why most children who are being abused don’t realize it is because they have been brainwashed. I know I was. In fact, I am out of school, and it was only last year that I began to realize my parents hurt me a lot more than the world has, or can. This is because, as an independent adult, I choose who hurts me by choosing how I live my life; but under my parents’ authority, I had no control over what I could do, say, or believe. I was not only withheld from being myself, but I was pushed into a mold that I was not designed to fit in.

Siblings Are Willing to Stand By Their Parents Even When Their Siblings “Rebel.”

Cynthia, Lydia and their two older sisters all agree that they have been abused, and yet the younger siblings make no such claims. Likewise, my older brother, Ryan, and I know that we have been abused as children. But our two younger brothers? They angrily have been pitted against us, believing we’ve rebelled against our parents.

In the comments of one of Cynthia’s blog posts, her younger brother, Micah, blatantly denies any abuse. Jumping on top of this, people immediately asserted that he was only brainwashed. In Micah’s defense, someone realistically pointed out that he was far too sharp to be brainwashed. And I have to agree. At the age of seventeen, it would be difficult to brainwash anyone. But…what if it had started at the age of two?

I don’t think a genius could stand a chance.

The brainwashed are simply people whose worlds have been painted inaccurately, in a way that causes them to function on someone else’s terms. It’s harmful for our independence to be denied for the same reasons that the American Revolution is considered just.

Seeing Micah repeatedly insist that his sister was the one to blame reminded me of myself years ago.

My older brother, Ryan, as a legal adult, had gotten into a relationship against our parents’ wishes. This was the situation that I firmly believe God used to get him out of my family’s abusive home. But in the wake of the moment, and for the next two years, our family was in shambles “because of his mistake.” It broke my mother’s heart, it pissed my dad off to the point of swearing in front of me for the first time in my life, and I and my younger brothers became very bitter at him—all because we believed he was sinning by dating instead of courting. I have many memories of talking with people who disagreed with me about Ryan’s situation, but I held fast, and never for a moment did I question whether my parents were right or not. That’s just how powerful brainwashing can be.

Perhaps this explains why Cynthia’s younger siblings are all standing with their parents—they simply do not yet have the unveiled eyes to see the truth.

Parents Can Be Brainwashed Too.

I am not here to proclaim that Mr. and Mrs. Jeub are evil, although I definitely feel that what they’re doing is not right. Instead, I sincerely believe that parents can be brainwashed too. Brainwashed to believe that what they’re doing is best for their kids. Brainwashed like mine were to believe that the man who tells them what is right is representing God. Brainwashed families quite often aren’t self-invented. Sometimes they’re hoodwinked by their leaders. This doesn’t justify anything abusers do—but it’s helped alleviate my perspective toward my parents, and people like them. Therefore I don’t look upon the Jeubs as monsters; instead, I see them as terribly, tragically misled people who—for the sake of their children—must be corrected.

3) Similar Testimonies

Cynthia’s story sounds like a plethora of others posted on Homeschoolers Anonymous, a blog dedicated to telling the stories of homeschool alumni who hope others can learn from their negative experiences. I have found the same behavioral patterns in her story that are evident in many preceding hers, and they all point to the same tragic idea: the misled continue to mislead others. Maybe it’s believing that God teaches them to beat the wickedness out of their children; perhaps it’s the simple idea that obedience trumps all else, regardless of the expense. There are many different patterns of abuse each with its own unique effects, but in every situation regarding parental abuse the children pay the consequences—often long after they’ve left childhood behind.

Cynthia’s story is one of many—too many to turn a blind eye toward. I can’t just reason stories like hers away, like I did with Ryan. They are becoming too loud and too real for me to continue to justify.

4) Track Record

Cynthia is not the only Jeub to leave the nest with less than stellar relationships with her parents. She is one of four—the oldest four—to not only leave with different beliefs than her parents, but to be kicked out of the house for refusing to be controlled. I really wonder how Mr. and Mrs. Jeub can fall asleep at night without wondering what they did wrong. Really, how can you parent and watch as 100% of the children who move out leave as disowned rebels without questioning your tactics?

Cynthia’s parents and siblings claim that Cynthia is mentally ill. I don’t argue that struggling with self-harm and suicidal thoughts is the epitome of emotional stability. Having struggled with self-harm and suicidal thoughts myself, though, I quote my counselor when I say that “emotions serve as an internal thermometer; so when our emotions tell us death is the best option, we know something is terribly wrong.”

But not wrong with us.

When people want to die, they’re not crazy—they’re being seriously oppressed. When I wanted to die, it wasn’t because I was losing it. I have never been diagnosed by anyone but my parents with madness; instead, what I have been told, and what I have grown to believe, is that the way my parents were treating me was threatening my mental well-being.

Suppose with me for a minute that Cynthia was mentally ill once (loosely defined according to whatever extent you may believe it); and by the way, she says she’s gone to therapy since moving out. Now ask yourself why she might be mentally ill. After all, there is no effect without cause. Perhaps she was in an unhealthy, abusive environment. Perhaps she was so oppressed that her only coping mechanism turned out to be the dream of a better reality, which—in her sheltered world—turned out to be none at all.

I don’t know this for sure.

But here is what I do know.

Cynthia’s track record is the same as her three other sisters. Interesting that her family is claiming that only Cynthia is mentally ill… And yet all three sisters support her words. All four sisters claim the same growing up experience. Clearly, we have few choices to be choosy with. Either:

  1. These sisters are telling the truth, or
  2. All four of them happen to be insane.

I believe each of these reasons stand alone as evidence that Cynthia is simply sharing her heart. I can’t blame her—her siblings are still living in the abusive conditions she’s clearly spent so much time recovering from. Besides, the whole idea behind blogging is to share opinions and experiences. The people who condemn Cynthia for sharing her story should likewise be condemned for telling her how they feel about it.

I, for one, think Cynthia is doing a really brave thing by sharing the truth. I hope that her story will someday feel worth the pain living through it has caused her. I hope she inspires people to be courageous and honest, as she has inspired me. I hope she educates people about the reality behind Christian homeschooling. And dear God, I really hope she helps her siblings.

“We Didn’t Kick You Out”: Cynthia Jeub’s Story, Part Five

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog CynthiaJeub.com. It was originally published on October 10, 2014. 

< Part Four

“Easy for a good girl to go bad
And once we gone
Best believe we’ve gone forever
Don’t be the reason
Don’t be the reason
You better learn how to treat us right.” -Rihanna

Want to know what it’s like to be a Jeub? If you check my dad’s Facebook, you’ll see smiling faces and positive talk.

Let me tell you a story.

Dad walked into the bedroom I shared with my sister, Lydia. To consolidate space, Lydia had taken to hanging up most of her thrift-store clothes in the closet. We didn’t have room for another dresser in addition to my dresser, a bookshelf, the bunk bed we shared, and our two desks.

Lydia was 19 and I was 21. It was normal for dad to walk into our bedroom without knocking. Our door handle’s lock was broken – when you have fifteen rough brothers and sisters, most things don’t last, including bedroom door locks. We didn’t have curtains hanging in our window, so I usually changed in the bathroom, carrying my clothes with me each time I showered. The bathroom door was broken, too, and I shared it with six sisters, so I’d been dressing myself behind the shower curtain since I was eleven.

“Girls, get in my office.” He was yelling. “We need to talk.”

“Dad, will you please close the door behind you?” I asked, knowing he wouldn’t. In winter, the open door would chill the basement room, with a thin layer of carpeting protecting us from the icy concrete floor. We used spot heaters to warm our rooms during the colder months. It wasn’t cold today, but dad always left our door open after waking us up.

It was Labor Day, 2013. I’d just started my fifth semester of college, and I was working three jobs: my part-time desk job, editing a section of the school newspaper, and working for my dad. My best friend often said it was too much for me to do, when there could be five to ten kids in my bedroom at any given time. I told her it was fine, and this was normal for me.

Most of what Lydia and I owned was already in boxes. We’d planned to move into our own apartment that week. There was just one problem: we needed proof of income to take over an apartment lease. Lydia had just interviewed for a store that was about to open, and I’d just started my part-time job. The newspaper didn’t record many hours, and my new employer quickly produced what I needed to prove income. We just needed dad to show that, as our main employer, we were making enough to move into our apartment.

When we asked our dad to help us show proof of income, he refused. He said we couldn’t make it on our own, and we wouldn’t be able to afford an apartment on our own. We were confused, seeing as we both had jobs and incomes, but you couldn’t argue with dad.

So this morning, Lydia and I shuffled into his office. Mom was sitting in the corner, the two of us took seats in front of the desk, and dad shut the door behind the four of us.

“I’m upset.” He said. “You drain our resources, you eat our food, you live in our house, you drive our cars, and you were supposed to be moved out by now.”

He was worked up, pacing and glowering down at us in our chairs. For the first time in my life, my dad started cussing at me. He said we didn’t help out around the house enough, and we were ungrateful, and we were wasting his money. Mom sat in the corner and approved the whole episode with her silence and nodding.

If we stayed, dad told us, we would need to pay for everything: the printer, the Internet, the SUV we already fueled whenever we drove it, and rent to sleep in our bedroom.

I’m not sure why I was determined not to cry. I know dad had made me cry many times in these kinds of exchanges, but this was too far. He’d never used swear words, and I had done nothing to bring this on, and I needed to protect my little sister. “Dad, you’re not making any sense. We are literally packed and ready to leave.”

My training in competitive forensics let me see the status dynamics. He was standing, and when I stood up, this threatened his power over me. He demanded that I sit back down, or leave his house immediately. My mind raced. Where would I go? He’d already taken away my ability to get an apartment. I only had a few thousand dollars to survive, and with me being enrolled in school, I didn’t have time to try for more income.

I finally sat back down. “Now, see, why did you sit down?” Dad jeered. “Because you’re admitting that you can’t make it on your own. You need me. You need my resources, everything I pay for and can’t afford. Now, since you’ve chosen to stay, I’m going to charge each of you $500 per month for rent.”

I stood up again. “That’s it. You’re being completely unreasonable.” I walked out, and, as soon as the door was closed, started shaking uncontrollably. I frantically texted a handful of friends. I was afraid dad might disconnect my cell phone, since we were on the same plan. I told my friends to show up if they didn’t hear back from me in half an hour, because I might lose my ability to contact them.

I still had paperwork to print for school, but dad had yelled at me for using the network and printer. I was in a double bind: I could ask to use the printer, and have my request denied. I could print without permission, and risk him confiscating or tearing up my papers – which I sincerely thought was a real possibility in his current mood. I could also hand him twenty-five cents, which would cover the cost of a few sheets of paper in his industrial printer, purchased for the family business’ publishing needs. The last option seemed the least risky, but I also knew my dad would probably be offended. I gathered two dimes and a nickel from my wallet, brought it into his office, and said I was paying for sheets of paper and ink. I went back in my room, and began loading the last of my belongings into boxes.

Dad slammed my door open and threw the coins at me. “Take your damn money!” he yelled.

I yelled back at him, saying I thought he wanted me to pay for using his things.

Lydia and I have twelve younger siblings, and the kids looked frightened and worried. I asked mom if I could take a shower before I left, or if I should pay them for it. She seemed surprised that I even asked, and said, “of course you can.”

I cried in the shower, knowing it would be my last day living in my family’s house, I was being kicked out, and I hadn’t done anything. Mom came in the bathroom while I was toweling off, and she said I should apologize to dad for rudely offering him change. My brother Micah, age 16, just wanted peace, so he begged me to hug my dad and say everything was okay. Five little kids stood around and watched while we obliged him begrudgingly.

One of my friends was still living with her parents, and they said they could come pick us up. I informed my parents that I had a place to go.

Lydia went for a walk and angrily processed what was happening for two hours. When she came back, mom and dad were opposed to letting the two of us have a private conversation. “Don’t think that if you leave, your sister will want to go with you,” dad told me.

We ignored their wishes and talked briefly anyway, before meeting in the office again. Dad smiled widely. “You guys found a place to go, and we’re so proud of you guys!”

Lydia and I exchanged glances at the heel-face turn.

Dad said, “We just have some finances to sort out, and then we’ll send you on your way.”

In our family, we never really tracked finances. Most of our work for the family business was contracted, so extra hours weren’t paid. Most of those contracts were spoken, not written or signed. Dad controlled all our bank accounts, so he just transferred agreed-upon amounts when we finished projects. Lydia and I often thought he changed his rates before and after, but we had no way to track it, and besides, he would ask, aren’t we committed to the business? When we did get paid by the hour, it was supposed to be minimum wage, but filling out timesheets wasn’t a priority.

We talked about cell phone charges and other expenses. Lydia and I forced dad to look at his bills and do the math, and this always meant we owed him less than he said at first. When we finally figured out what we all owed each other, he paid us for the past six months of our work, and we paid him for utilities and phones. He came out ahead and transferred the difference from our accounts.

Then he said, “I’m so proud of both of you. We gave you options, to stay and rent from us, or to find a place of your own. So you’re moving out, and we don’t want you to go around to all your friends and complain about us. We didn’t kick you out, so don’t say we did.”

The next hour was perhaps the most awkward of my life. My friends came to get us, and my parents showed smiles and invited them in for dinner. We hadn’t gotten so much as an apology, but now everything was fine. As Lydia and I left, dad stopped us at the front door to take a picture. Of everything that happened that day, this is the Facebook post people saw:


That’s the difference between Jeub home life and what you see of my family online or on TV.

End of series.

The Breakthrough Moment: Cynthia Jeub’s Story, Part Two

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog CynthiaJeub.com. It was originally published on October 6, 2014. 

< Part One

“How can I pretend that I don’t see
What you hide so carelessly?
…It’s not what it seems
Not what you think
No, I must be dreaming…
Help, you know I’ve got to tell someone
Tell them what I know you’ve done
I fear you…” -Evanescence

I have blogged very little about my family, even though I know many of you follow me because you’re interested in what a girl with fifteen brothers and sisters has to say.

I never thought of much to write about. My family felt normal to me. There was nothing deeply introspective or philosophical about it. My lifestyle was intriguing for people because we were different. That’s all.

Recently, the trending hashtag #WhyIStayed gave domestic violence victims a chance to tell their stories. They piled in by the hundreds – women and men explained how spouses, significant others, and parents had abused them. I chimed in with this tweet:


The most informative thing I first saw about domestic violence was Leslie Morgan Steiner’s TED talk, “Why domestic violence victims don’t leave.”

In it, she says that when we ask why the abused people don’t leave, we’re asking the wrong question. Such a question blames the victim for being in the situation. She also tells her own story, and says she didn’t know it was happening.

Her husband beat her, but she didn’t think of herself as a battered wife. That’s how many, many victims feel before they get out. Abuse is the norm, especially for children raised in abusive homes. Some abusers may even tell their victims that it could be worse, and abuse is what happens in other homes, but not here.

Often, victims don’t realize it’s a problem until the breakthrough moment. For me, the breakthrough was a few things – being told that I couldn’t live in my parents’ house anymore was one. For Steiner, the breakthrough was “a particularly sadistic beating.”

Every morning I wake up and think, “How did I never see it before?”

Some days, I have trouble getting up in time for work. It’s debilitating to look at my past as something different than what I thought it was.

Nobody has to ask me why I never said anything about my past in abuse. I ask it of myself, and I question my own sanity. I trusted my parents completely, and I couldn’t identify manipulation or emotional abuse. I was physically abused, and I don’t just mean that I’m opposed to spanking.

I didn’t know I was abused. For every violent incident or when my parents lost their tempers, I had three options. First, I could blame myself and assume I deserved it, or that one of my siblings deserved it. Second, I could see this instance as isolated and minimal, totally out of character, and thus erase my logical ability to recognize patterns. Third, if the first two options didn’t work, my parents apologized profusely and demanded forgiveness, which meant I could never bring it up again.

The life of abuse isn’t full of anger, getting thrown and smacked and bruised, and being yelled at and torn down. That’s only part of it. You also feel special and needed. You don’t feel like life is hell, even if it is, because you know how to force a smile. It feels good to damage your own health and wellbeing for your abusers, because you’re told that you’re doing what is right. You fight for acceptance and admonition, because you’re always getting small tastes of it, and it’s always just out of reach.

The breakthrough moment isn’t the only reason domestic violence victims don’t leave. They also stay in their situations because they feel trapped. Once they know what’s going on, it’s unsafe to leave.

The reason it’s unsafe is because nobody knows about it, and if you speak up, the perpetrator threatens and punishes.

I wasn’t safe to talk about my family life until now. I had to get a new bank account, so my dad could stop financially abusing me with easy transaction-making access. I had to get my own car, so my mom could stop using rides to my much-needed mental health therapy as reason to tell me I was ungrateful if I stepped out of line. I had to buy my website’s domain name from my dad so he couldn’t delete my blog for prying the mask off my family’s face.

These stories have always existed. I was taught to tuck them away as if they never happened. To speak of them would be unforgiving.

There’s so much to tell. I’m assuming that those of you who don’t know anything about my family can use Google to fill yourselves in on what I’m referencing. My parents love the spotlight, so it’s not hard to find the pieces.

Ages will be estimated. Because my parents deny so much of what happened, I can’t confirm exactly when certain events occurred. I’ve chosen to include specific ages for the sake of narrative.

Also, I want to say a thing about abuse. I am not labeling everything in the following stories as abuse. Some things are abusive, some things are just a little weird, and some things are totally common. “Bad” and “common” are not mutually exclusive terms, but I want to be clear that I don’t classify everything my parents ever did as abusive.

Never letting my older sister and me grow our hair very long, and pressuring my sister who wanted short hair to keep it long, was bizarrely controlling. It was just a piece, a detail, of how our bodies were not our own.

But the time my mom grabbed my ear as a small child and threw me on the hard wood floor so my head rang, or the time my dad hit my sister over forty times with a belt not as punishment, but because she had a rebellious spirit, or when my brother wasn’t allowed to attend his regular extracurricular activities for a couple of weeks so nobody would see the bruises my mom left on his face…I think it’s fair to call those things abusive.

I’m just telling stories about my past, so there’s a mix of everything: the abusive, the controlling, the bizarre, the good, how I dealt with it, and how I see it now. I’m undecided on a whole collection of things. Parenting, for instance, is something I can only write about as someone who well remembers being a child, not from the perspective of a parent.

I predict this, and some of it has already happened since Friday’s teaser: people will say it’s disrespectful to put these stories on display. Others will say I’m complaining about things that aren’t a big deal. Still others will discredit my voice because I sound angry and hurt, as if the people who’ve been hurt have no right to speak up about what they’ve experienced. I will be, and have already been, accused of lying. I’m prepared for all of these things.

You have to reassure people when you’re talking about such things, so here’s that reassurance: I have a great support system from friends since losing trust in my parents and connection with my siblings. Yes, I have friends who disagree with me, so I have accountability. Yes, I’m prepared for being accused of slander and I can back up my claims. I’m moving forward in my career, and I’m in mental health therapy. I am living in a safe place.

I hope my stories are redemptive.

Part Three >

The Smoke and Ash of Melting Memories

Photo credit: Ajgiel, deviantArt. Image links to source.
Photo credit: Ajgiel, deviantArt. Image links to source.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Mullen Kunsman’s blog Under Much Grace. It was originally published on October 7, 2014. 

What are your earliest memories like?

I remember some events as what seem like still photographs from when I was very young – like the yellow diaper service pail on the front porch with an embossed stork on it, though the pigment in the pattern had faded. I remember my mother sitting beside my white crib, reading different books to me. Though I could not have had a visit with him after I was three years old, I remember my orthopedist. He had jet black hair and wore a smock like doctors wore in black and white movies. I remember really liking him, but I don’t remember talking to him or why I saw him. I remember my grand geek fascination with the magiciadias when Brood X made their seventeen year appearance, just before my fourth birthday. They are pictures in the album of my mind, accompanied only by the sense of joy, excitement, or curiosity that I feel when they’re called back into my consciousness. I have to rely on the history that I learned from my family to put those pictures into perspective.

The Scandal of Undeserved Shame

I would love to say that my first continuous memory of a whole chain of events follows some moment of joy. Most of the elements of the scene move like clips in a movie without sound. I’ve written about it before as “the thought seeds of the heart’s scandal,” I was terrified when I posted it online, as it felt painfully revealing.

Suffice it to say that this continuous memory was a trauma that taught to me a host of horrible messages, basically that in addition to not being able to trust my own experience and memory, I was damned to punishment no matter what I did. A child stole pennies from me, and I was punished for carelessness with money, believing that I’d misplaced it. When the child’s mother called my mother when the money turned up, I was punished for somehow provoking the child to steal. When I learned later that the child had not returned all of the money, I was punished and shamed again. The sweeping, continuous events seem like movie clips, teaching me some rather sick ideas about about who I was, how I fit into the world, and what I should expect from others.

I can vividly remember only a few audible memories of those events. I would hear my mother echo many of the statements many times again throughout my childhood. I clearly remember the taunting voice and laughter of that other child in that characteristic “nah, nah, nah” cadence that can be heard on every school playground. Though I have desensitized to this memory of confusion and shame, the scar can still be weak and tender, if the conditions are right (or wrong, depending on your perspective). I’m very human, and my “early wiring” was far from ideal.

Life in the D-O-L-L-H-O-U-S-E

This weekend, I read a post that Cynthia Jeub wrote recently, and I am haunted by it. Cynthia’s family was once featured on The Learning Channel in a 2006 series called Kids by the Dozen. In 2008, the network launched the more commonly known 19 Kids and Counting series featuring the Duggar Family which follows a family of homeschoolers who are a part of the same basic religious belief system. The fun adventures of these large families portray the idealized life that seem like a Norman Rockwell originals, but they omit the experiences of the less fortunate families like those described in the book, Quivering Daughters.

It seems that Cynthia and her sister Lydia now find themselves among the ranks of the Second Generation Adults (SGA) of this relatively new, high demand religious movement. According to Libby Anne at her blog on Patheos, Cynthia and her sister Lydia have been shunned by their family for failing to follow their parents’ lifestyle. (SGAs are adults who grew up within a high demand religious system. Their needs and recovery issues often differ significantly from those of adults who enjoy a “good enough” childhood and make their own choice to join a religious sect. Those who are raised in sects have no choice and find themselves limited to far more bounded choices.)

Cynthia describes the crafted persona of her family which focuses heavily on image consciousness and perfection – a way of proving to the world (and themselves) that they are more special to God than other Christians. Borrowing lyrics from Melanie Martinez’s song Dollhouse, Cynthia describes the dissonance of living such a life. I marvel at her valor and the ability to express such painful events with melancholy beauty.

Though I always tremble at the seriousness with which I post my own personal details online to illustrate a truth or a principle, to my knowledge, my parents don’t read what I write. The healing process, done privately, takes tremendous courage. The children of shows like Kids by the Dozen break their silence about their hidden difficulties before a captive world of television without pity. They cannot hide. Their parents and all of their friends who are still within the religious movement will read and harshly judge their words, though survivors of the same experiences will find validation and encouragement. Such candor demonstrates remarkable bravery that I cannot fathom, for I did most of my recovery work in private.

Melting Masks in the Flame of the Gaslight

Cynthia’s Melting Memory Masks reminds me of the gaslighting that I endured as a child.

The term “gaslighting” derives from the British play and film that was remade in the US in 1944 staring Ingrid Bergman.  The husband in Gaslight wants to convince his wealthy, already traumatized wife that she is insane, so he sets up situations to convince her that she’s lost touch with reality. The term came to represent the behavior wherein one person wrongfully challenges the perceptions and memory of another, though in dysfunctional families, it’s not as malicious or deliberate as portrayed in the old film. (Read more about gaslighting HERE. I’m amazed at how much I needed to reread today for my own benefit.)

To survive in high demand situations, people must bury who they are and their experiences to survive and avoid the punishment created by their non-compliance. This process (of which gaslighting is often a part) creates cognitive dissonance – the very stressful psychological state when elements of a situation become confusing and inconsistent. Speech or emotions fail to match the context of behavior or information, causing individuals to feel out of balance. They become more easily manipulated as a consequence. Though adults are very vulnerable to these same influences when the conditions are right, children have little or no power to resist the process because of their dependency on adults. High demand religious groups as well as parents also exploit a child’s innate vulnerabilities to exact control.

Because of the demands of the roles of the “family script” and the gaslighting, siblings who remain behind within the high demand group will often do and say whatever they need to do to survive their own discomfort. We human beings tend to believe what we want to believe and that which gives us the most comfort. Sometimes called “wishful thinking,” this human trait of confirmation bias makes us unwilling to consider unpleasant information. To protect their family and the continuity of their own life, siblings often challenge dissidents as they struggle against the unpleasant testimonies of their family when they speak openly about the problems that they suffered within the group. They are dependent upon their family, and they often have no other choice because of their lack of resources. High demand groups require the same type of loyalty of their members. When individuals, particularly children, become isolated from their own sense of personal worth and acceptance from good experiences outside of a closed world, within high demand homeschooling, gaslighting becomes even more effective.

Smoke and Ashes

I am amazed when I look back on how much I’ve grown since I left a group that followed the same religious system embraced by the Jeubs and the Duggars. I indeed experienced gaslighting when in that system, sometimes through “mystical manipulation” and sometimes just through their unwritten social code of conduct. I soon realized, however, that when I recognized the unhealthy dynamics within religion, I could no longer tolerate the same kinds of behavior when I encountered them in other relationships – most notably with my family.

I felt as though this message from Cynthia’s father described well my own parents’ sentiment about our estrangement which began about a decade ago. I, too, am “welcome” at my parents’ table – if I give up on having a perspective that differs in any way from theirs – even about things that seem completely insignificant. A decade ago, I deliberately set out to learn how to manage my responses so that I could tolerate their gaslighting and pretense. Along the way, I figured out that I was chasing a fantasy, and the solution to the dilemma didn’t involve learning new skills. The solution involved walking away and abandoning the fantasy of finding some place of grace with them, free from coercion and shame. Portia Nelson’s poem describes the situation well for me.

Ultimately, the gaslighting situation boils down to a relationship of cooperation between two parties. The person who gaslights consolidates power by using others to bolster up their ego by always being right. The person who allows the gaslighter to redefine their own perspective seeks to gain their gaslighter’s approval or whatever their approval can provide.

If the gaslighter doesn’t realize that this is what they’re doing, the “gaslightee” may be able to negotiate with them to stop. If the behavior is intentional, then the manipulator doesn’t have much incentive to change. If the gaslightee wishes it to stop, they must be the one to initiate the change. They have to shift the balance of power in the relationship so that they are no longer ruled by the gaslighter.   In my relationship with my parents and despite forty years of trying, they would only accept being “right,” thus assigning me with the role of “100% wrong.” I worked at coming to an agreement with them – a plan of what we might do when they gaslighted me because my reactions to it were powerful and too painful for me to manage. After years of trying, I finally realized that if I hadn’t gained their favor by playing along for most of my life, it likely wouldn’t happen in the future. I changed the gaslighting dynamic by withdrawing from the relationship which was really just one of fantasy that I wished could be true.

They really don’t have anything that I want anymore, now that I’ve abandoned that fantasy.


I hope that Cynthia and Lydia Jeub will learn this wisdom far more quickly than I did. I’m glad that they both have a whole community of surviving and thriving SGAs for support and validation. And I’m grateful to Cynthia for her post which helped me remember where I’ve come from and how far I’ve traveled. She reminded me that though my own deep wounds have largely healed, I still need to honor my scars – and I need to listen to them. Though I wish that it all was far behind me, I still find myself cleaning up the soot left by the remnants of those ashen memories.  And that’s okay.

Proverbs says that truth comes at a price. Those who were gaslighted as young children must pay a high price in adulthood to claim their own perspective — a rite that most people take for granted. It’s been my experience that the truth and the price one pays to speak it doesn’t come cheap. May they be wealthy!

About the Author

Cynthia Mullen Kunsman is a nurse (BSN), naturopath (ND) and seminary graduate (MMin) with a wide variety of training and over 20 years of clinical experience. She has used her training in Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a lecturer and liaison to professional scientific and medical groups, in both academic and traditional clinical healthcare settings. She also completed additional studies in the field of thought reform, hypnotherapy for pain management, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is often associated with cultic group involvement. Her nursing experience ranges from intensive care, the training of critical care nurses, hospice care, case management and quality management, though she currently limits her practice to forensic medical record review and evaluation. Most of her current professional efforts concern the study of manipulative and coercive evangelical Christian groups and the recovery process from both thought reform and PTSD.